The Chicago Manual of Style is the Worst Thing to Happen to English Since the British

Article — By on August 28, 2013 12:52 pm

This post was written by Dark_Sage. He is Dark_Sage.

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Time for some truth.

The Manual Itself


I’d rather illuminate my mind with a muzzle flash



You’d best practice some more, “legion of publishing professionals”. Shit like this is why most of you have been replaced by the spellcheck function.



Killing Trees and Misrepresenting the Size of the Manual


Here’s a caption so you know where this image ends

It’s not uncommon to see situations like this where the only actual content on a page is a single sentence.

No, adding pretty arrows doesn’t make it okay when people are expecting 2400 pages of substance, not 2400 poorly phrased sentences.




Grammatical Decisions Made On-High




How does it make sense for there to be different rules for poetry depending on prior publication status? Is this some scheme to resell the same book to people under the guise of a new version? Sort of like how you’re the selling the 15th edition of this manual as the 16th?

And no, expanding the “section on bias-free language” doesn’t count as a significant update. Don’t fuck with me — you can’t pretend this shit’s worth $65.



Italicizing Foreign Words


Can you even imagine how subtitles would look? Holy shitballs, there’d be more visual cancer than a Funimation release.



Proper Nouns


Okay, that makes sense. Maybe you aren’t such a shitty manual after all–


Does “the Victorian era” not refer to a specific thing? CMoS, please.




A Superior Alternative

So what do I use instead?

“So, are there better English guides out there?”

Gomen nasai, kawaiianimegirl_deviantart-XD686.jpg. There’s no real style guide that can handle even a fraction of the English language properly, because the only people who are intellectually capable of creating such manuals skipped out on grabbing an English degree and have real jobs.

Instead of irrelevant tomes, I suggest grabbing a few pints and reading religiously to improve your understanding of the English language. Because fuck the Chicago Manual of Style.

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AzureHakua says:

I never knew that style books told you how to publish works.

So for the italicizing foreign words bit. Are they saying that Japanese words in subs need to be italicized?

How about the other style books? AP and MLA and whatnot?

Dark_Sage says:

I don’t believe they wrote their manual with any understanding or consideration toward subtitles. But yes, if you were to follow their guide to the letter, you’d italicize every foreign word that you couldn’t find in the Merriam-Webster dictionary (which is the only dictionary they recommend you use).

As for other style manuals, I guarantee they work with equally fucked logic. The only thing they’re used for in a professional or educational sense is source citation formatting.

AzureHakua says:

Welp. Not like style manuals cater to fansubbing.

Unless someone writes one…

Dark_Sage says:

I have numerous drafts in the Crymore crypts, but I doubt I’ll ever garner enough motivation to finish any of ’em. It would be a monumental undertaking with less positive effect on the scene than merely shaming groups into getting better.

AzureHakua says:

That’s a shame. I really liked your article on ellipses you posted last year or something.

Dark_Sage says:

Aww thanks <3

Unfortunately, the ellipses article highlights my point: I'd have to write one of those for every major aspect of grammar that relates to fansubbing and then find some way to tie it together.

Alternatively, I could write a series, in which I do one such article a week... but I'm not sure how many entertaining abortion jokes I could come up with before I have to start dumpster diving.

AzureHakua says:

So I guess you’ll be killing the grammar series idea before it’s even born, eh?

Dark_Sage says:

Let’s just say I’ll be hanging it up for now.

With a coat hanger.

A wire coat hanger that was used to scrape a fetus from a female’s uterus and then bent back into its original shape because who has enough money to waste a coat hanger in this economy?

That kind of coat hanger.

Not a merkin says:

> The Chicago Manual of Style

Always makes me think of Fahrenheit 451.

Try this for the BBC’s guide to English. Although it’s intended for journalists, just reading properly structured sentences is rewarding enough. The guide defines the basics, lists some entertaining mistakes, and provides useful help to avoid cliches, Americanisms, and commonly confused words.

Dark_Sage says:

Link’s there. I just had to bold it for you. I screwed up some shit with the stylesheets, so by default links don’t show up nicely.

temp_late says:

Some of these constructions practically have the Union Jack emblazoned on them, I must say. For example:

“Many American words and expressions have impact and vigour, but use them with discrimination or your audience may become a tad irritated.”

FalseDawn says:

Well, it is irritating when a Brit talks like an American. I have a friend who says “faucet” instead of tap, so I glare at her a lot :)

magicladuser says:

I can’t seem to figure out from which manganime the young lady in the first picture is representing. If someone does know kindly let me know.

Dark_Sage says:

You can google search with image links now. Copy down the image URL, put it in Google, then hit Search by Image.

The chick’s from a Russian roulette VN.

Nevreen says:

The acknowledgements thing is due to your browser not displaying the em-dash properly. It shows up fine for me in Chrome. Blame character encodings being so complicated and software developers not implementing them properly.

As for the Victorian era, it’s named after Queen Victoria, so it follows the proper names exception.

Not a merkin says:

> The acknowledgements thing is due to your browser not displaying the em-dash properly. It shows up fine for me in Chrome. Blame character encodings being so complicated and software developers not implementing them properly.

Out of curiosity, what OS are you both using? I see this sort of thing in Linux all the time, usually when someone has copy/pasted from MS Word which screws up everything punctuation-related. It’s particularly annoying when MS create their own rules, and Adobe don’t follow their own standards.

BTW, it’s a shame they didn’t use “the Jacobean era” for their example. That would really have confused everyone.

Dark_Sage says:

I’m using Windows 7, but I was viewing the manual in Foxit Reader.

Dark_Sage says:

I didn’t intend to point out awkward capitalization — I wanted to point out the absurdity of the disconnect between what a proper noun actually is and how style guides desire to twist it. By all accounts, “the Victorian Era” is specific and unique, such that it deserves proper noun status.

Nevreen says:

I see what you were getting at now. I suppose I agree, but grammar has always been needlessly convoluted and very often irrational. And the English language doesn’t have a central authority that dictates what’s acceptable and what isn’t, hence the existence of multiple style guides and dictionaries that contradict each other.

I tend to not strictly follow any one style guide, but to adopt rules that make the most sense or are most widely accepted.

Dark_Sage says:

>I tend to not strictly follow any one style guide, but to adopt rules that make the most sense or are most widely accepted.

Smart. That’s the way you gotta do it.

Xythar says:

I think there’s still some controversy about that. I’m used to writing stuff like the following:

the Victorian era
the Cretaceous period
Osaka station
Tullamarine airport
Planck’s law
Avogadro’s number

Not sure where this particular practice originates, but it’s the one I’m most comfortable with. In each of those cases, capitalising both words seems wrong to me, except perhaps for the station and airport where I could go either way (but generally prefer not to).

On the other hand, I still prefer to write stuff like
The Civil War
The French Revolution
The Spanish Inquisition

so who knows.

Yogiact says:

Do you drive on the “Hume Highway” to Sydney?

Xythar says:

No, I take the plane.

marthaurion says:

lol…my university actually handed out copies of that book to every new undergrad

Dark_Sage says:

Mine gave me some management guru bullshit. Seven Effective Manager Types or some other trash like that.

I waited about a week to see if we were gonna do anything with it and then fed the recycling bin.

zanon says:

I liked what I read of that Cambridge one (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language) but fuck if I’m paying two hundred and thirty fucking dollars to find out for sure and for a 1300+ page dead tree piece of shit at that. I’d only be interested in seeing what they had to say and having a reference for second opinions, for which I’d pay maybe a quarter of that and only for a normal electronic version with hot new 40 year old technology like “search.” I guess those British guys still don’t quite grasp dem new fangled Babbage machines.

Really though, at this point a lot of these Publications From Un High are in danger of making themselves into practically another language entirely through sheer inaccessibility. They can say all they wish as precisely as possible, but what’s the point if no one can read it outside their own tiny group of magisterial circle jerkers? If there’s a language question while we’re working on a project and one source is hundreds of bucks and requires a trip to the library while the other is Wiktionary, guess who wins by default?

CMoS would fail this too except at least they’re available on The Pirate’s Bay and really at this point I’m used to publishers that hate me and hate taking my filthy lucre, so I’m not going to dock them any points in particular for that one.

Dark_Sage says:

I sort of understand where they’re coming from. They know no regular humans will buy that shit, so they jack the price up and market it to institutions of “higher learning” because they’ll pay that fee. But you’re right, unless they find some way to gain legitimate mindshare, that can’t go on forever.

zanon says:

>They know no regular humans will buy that shit, so they jack the price up and market it to institutions of “higher learning” because they’ll pay that fee.

Yeah, I’m regrettably familiar with that mindset since it defines many fields of research science (though in turn it’s also the subject of a significant amount of ongoing controversy and evolution). I’m not sure I entirely agree though that “no regular humans” will buy it, at least in the modern era. Sure, no regular humans will buy it at that price on paper, but that may be putting effect before cause. I suspect their mindset is still from an era where the obstacles for regular people were significant, in terms of physical size, printing/shipping expense, difficulty in searching and referencing if you had no expertise, etc. So really the natural place was for institutions and specialists, and in turn they were priced naturally for low volume/high expense economics. Of course now though something that size trivially fits in pennies worth of storage space, and can be replicated and transmitted for effectively nothing, and we’ve all got pocket systems that can handle millions of volumes and crunch through them all for easy search. Swapping to a high volume/low expense model seems critical particularly for something like language, and there would be a lot more people interested for $23 rather then $230 (and they could still keep the latter as some fancy print version and milk the elitists too).

At least science research or even anime for that matter have a certain amount of independent value. But on the prescriptive/descriptive spectrum, any “manual” of language by nature is going to be on the prescriptive ends of things. So like you say, there’s a bit of a ticking clock in the modern world where information spread is ever more decentralized. Something will need to give because the rest of the planet isn’t standing still. I mean, it was joked about a bit above before you applied a virtual +15 Coat Hanger of Fetuscalypse, but someone really could create a Fansub Advice/Language Wiki with closed access given only to editors/TLC who worked on groups averaging B or higher on Crymore (criteria pulled from my ass), for nothing or nearly nothing, and start slowly chipping away at it. Bit of a crapshoot whether it’d take off or not, it’d certainly be a potential time sink on a scale to make dogs cower and sane men flee, but that it’s possible, even trivial, is pretty awesome really. Or pretty scary for an old world publisher.

Well, “sample around a bit and use what makes sense, ask some good native speakers for criticism if you’re unsure” will continue to be a good if minimally scalable solution. You are clearly on the cutting edge of [large number of buzzwords] learning here at Crymore.

zanon says:

Holy fuck did that turn out tl;dr. That’s what I get for posting late and slightly drunk on a subject I’ve been stewing on and arguing about with an old professor. sumimasen, shouganai (see 7.49, 7.50).

Xythar says:

I just sub stuff the way I’d like to see it subbed.

The trick is whether other people want to see it subbed that way as well, really.

Ayase says:


1. It would look seriously ugly to riddle texts with words in italics, especially with subtitles.
2. Look who doesn’t know what an em-dash is.
3. Don’t try to tell me you know anything about capitalization, Mister ALL CAPS TITLES.
4. What about Korean words? Or words from languages not from East Asia, like Russian? Why set Chinese and Japanese apart?

> Does “the Victorian era” not refer to a specific thing? CMoS, please.

Very inconsistent indeed. Why capitalize some things like “Victoria Cross”, but not others like “Victorian era”?

kokujin-kun says:

Ugh, I’m still trying to unlearn the APA style they forced us to do at school.

WaitoPiggu says:

“Chinese and Japanese–capitalization and italics”
Do they have different rules for other languages?

I agree that it would look bad in our subtitles because of the quantity of Japanese words present, but it’s regularly done in books where they are less common and it looks OK (even though it’s kind of pointless).

Dark_Sage says:

They do, actually. Here’s a list of everything that has its own category in the manual:

African Languages
Croatian and Bosnian
Romanian and Moldavian
Serbian and Montenegrin
Turkish and Azeri

Chinese and Japanese
South Asian Languages

Classical Greek
Old English/Middle English
American Sign Language

But of all those, the only languages that supposedly require italics for their words are Chinese and Japanese.

Dude says:

Tell me, how do their manual differ between Norwegian, Swedish and Danish?

Dark_Sage says:

And that’s all they have. I think we can all agree that there’s more variability in those three than all “African” or “south Asian” languages.

Dude says:

I like how the entire style for all three languages is based around how to write words you could argue don’t even exist in these languages anymore.

WaitoPiggu says:

Lol, by the way, weren’t Japanese and Chinese words the only ones requiring italicization?

They should at least follow their own manual of style.

Kiraly says:

Romanian and Moldavian? There’s a Moldavian language? As far a I’m aware they just speak Russian and Romanian.

Dark_Sage says:

Well, the CMoS wouldn’t just make it up, would they? Let’s check their source citation… Oh, it’s the Chicago Manual of Style. See? They pulled it from a respected publication.

Bonus, here’s the entire page on Russian/Moldavian capitalization:

Kiraly says:

That page is indeed very enlightening.

Ana says:

I almost fell off my chair laughing XD

You should really try writing a “Dark_Sage Manual of Style”, it can only be better.

When I write something for uni, I only italicize foreign words on the first occurrence, not after that, and never heard complaints about that.

FalseDawn says:

I use italics for all foreign words. Just not in subtitling, because the higher propensity for foreign words would make it look ridiculous. However, having read novels that have been translated from other languages, when words are left in their original language and explained (sometimes in parentheses like this), they’ve always been italicised.

temp_late says:

Yeah, you see italics for foreign words all the time in print and not just for Chinese and Japanese.

The frequency of foreign words and otherwise resulting visual stupidity isn’t the only reason to skip italics for subtitle translations. The italics in print media functionally indicate that a foreign word is introduced. If the word is spoken in accompanying audio, which is what happens when making subtitles, then that already tells you the foreign origin of the word.

arcunhacked says:

Wow. The phrasing is surprisingly bad.

corocoro says:

Why would you need a manual for American sign language?
Isn’t that just a substitute for normal, spoken English and as such has the same writing?

CMoS best MoS.

WAD says:

No, ASL has it’s own grammar and vocabulary; it’s not just a different way of speaking English.

corocoro says:

Huh, you learn something new every day.

Raggers says:

I don’t even…

They fucked up the language, so I suppose this was to be expected.

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